Acne Treatments: Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic…

Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Saliclic Acid - Chris Windsor Collection/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Chris Windsor Collection/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Updated December 16, 2014.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See’s Medical Review Board.

Question: Benzoyl Peroxide Vs. Salicylic Acid

Which is the best acne treatment ingredient — benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid?


The benzoyl peroxide vs. salicylic acid question is one that is bound to come up when you’re looking for an acne treatment. Most over-the-counter acne products contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid; some products include both.

So which is the better treatment? It really depends on your skin.

Benzoyl peroxide is the quintessential acne treatment. It works to reduce acne-causing bacteria and is especially good if your acne is red and inflamed. Benzoyl peroxide is found in countless OTC products, as well as prescription acne medications.

Salicylic acid, on the other hand, works by speeding up cell turnover rates. It’s a good choice for those with blackheads and/or closed comedones.

Salicylic acid also makes a good selection for kids with the beginnings of acne breakouts. For those with a sensitivity to benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is obviously the better OTC option.

You don’t necessarily have to choose just one, either. Using them together can help increase their effectiveness. Many OTC products contain both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. You could even use a cleanser containing salicylic acid, for example, followed by a benzoyl peroxide lotion.

The possible side effects for both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are similar — dryness, peeling, and irritation. Using them together can increase the chances of side effects, so scale back use if you’re getting especially dry or irritated.

Just remember, whether they contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, OTC treatments work best for those with mild acne. If you’re not getting good results after using them for several weeks, it’s time to give your doctor a call.

What Is the Best Acne Treatment?


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Kligman AM. Acne vulgaris: tricks and treatments. Part II: the benzoyl peroxide saga. Cutis 1995;56: 260-1.

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